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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on October 11th, 2012.

What IS it about hummus that everyone loves so much? What is it for you? The fact that it’s a more healthy appetizer?  It’s meatless?  It’s easy? Or just because it’s so tasty? How about all of those things?


This hummus does NOT contain tahini.

For many years I just bought ready made hummus – seems like every grocery store has fresh hummus on their refrigerator shelves. Some I’ve had have been really good. But then, some others I’ve had have been downright awful. I’ve concluded a few things – true hummus contains tahini (sesame seed paste). It’s not on every grocery store shelf. There are lots of brands of tahini out there – just do a search for tahini images and you’ll see what I mean. This one shown at right is the one in my refrigerator at the moment. The companies that produce hummus don’t always put very much tahini in the hummus. Why? Because it’s expensive. So the less they can add, the cheaper the product. Cheaper = more sales, they think. Cheaper may also mean a less tasty product. That’s my analysis, anyway. The other thing is the oil – hummus needs just the right amount of oil added. And not cheap vegetable oil, but olive oil. Not expensive extra virgin necessarily, but good, tasty oil. Food producers probably don’t do that either – good olive oil is expensive too. So they use an inferior product and add less of it. They allow the garbanzo beans to be the glue. There is one brand I will buy, though – Sabra. Not every grocery store carries it. Theirs is good – and they sell it in a few different flavors. When I’m in a hurry, with no time to cook, that’s the brand I search for.

And then, about 15 or more years ago I attended a cooking class where the instructor made her own hummus. It’s a recipe I’ve used over, and over, and over again. It’s a particularly delicious appetizer served the way it is – Layered Hummus and Eggplant. It’s on my Fav’s list, in case you haven’t read it before now. Sometimes I just plain CRAVE this dish. I could eat it as dinner, it’s so gosh-darned good. But the hummus, which is the bottom layer of that appetizer, is my go-to hummus recipe. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve made it. But I must have tahini to do it. Fortunately, tahini keeps in the refrigerator for a long time. This recipe below doesn’t require hummus.

Well, so now we’re back to this recipe. Cooks around the world, I suppose, have begun to be inventive with hummus – not just additions like garlic or parsley – but adding other totally different ingredients – like spinach. If you use greens in hummus, you probably don’t need the tahini. This recipe doesn’t need the tahini at all – the spinach adds lots of flavor and the tahini would overpower the spinach.

This appetizer/dip is SO easy to make – the spices do have to be roasted in a dry skillet, but that takes just minutes. The rest is combined in the food processor and it’s done. Zip. Quick. If you buy already baked or toasted pita chips, you’ll have this appetizer ready in a flash. I don’t generally have baby spinach in my frig, though, so this recipe will require planning ahead. Here, I served it with sangak bread, which is just delish for hummus.

In case you aren’t familiar with garam masala, it’s an Indian spice mixture. Most grocery stores now carry it – well, they do here in California anyway. You can make your own – here’s a link to a garam masala recipe. I have a friend who gives me garam masala – her aunt brings it from India whenever she visits, or any member of the family. Every Indian cook has her own favorite recipe for it. If you have a good-sized spice pantry, you likely have all the needed ingredients already – it’s just a matter of combining them.

What I liked: everything about it. Easy. Tasty. Healthy.

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing!

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MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Spinach Hummus

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, caterer and cooking instructor, 10/2012
Serving Size: 6

8 ounces garbanzo beans, canned — drained
1 clove garlic — peeled
1 cup baby spinach — packed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted
Crackers, or toasted pita bread triangles for serving

1. Toast the garam masala, cumin, salt and pepper in a dry skillet for 2-3 minutes until fragrant but not quite smoking. Set aside to cool.
2. Combine the drained garbanzo beans and garlic in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add spinach, lemon juice and toasted spices and blend thoroughly.
3. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil.
4. Scoop the hummus into a small serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Serve with toasted pita triangles or crackers.
Per Serving: 162 Calories; 12g Fat (66.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 473mg Sodium.

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